My Home is Where You Are
Every week WordPress.com announces a new photo challenge and multiple photographers/bloggers post their photos and browse through the posts of others. I didn’t know about this when I first began blogging, but when I finally caught up, I decided to participate, too. For one thing, I have always liked photography and I have accumulated a lot of digital pictures, which just sit there clogging my computer’s hard drive. For another, it gives me a chance to look at my old photos, think about the time and the place they were taken, and, sometimes, contemplate my life. This is exactly what happened when I learned about WordPress’s latest challenge – home – and I began thinking about it.
To celebrate my birth in 1951, my parents planted two birch trees beside my grandparents’ apartment house in Moscow – my first home. I cannot actually remember this, but my parents have told me about it so often that, eventually, I began to feel as though I were there with them – watching my father dig two holes in the thawed ground and lower two spindly saplings into their depths, then help my mother water the trembling newcomers. I do remember growing up with these trees – my parents and I lived in my grandparents’ one room apartment until I turned five — and being proud of the fact that my arrival in this world was marked by something alive and symbolic, for birch trees are symbols of my mother country Russia, as bald eagles are symbols of the U.S.
Throughout my life in Moscow, I returned to my first home numerous times – at first to visit my grandparents and later, after they were gone, to celebrate their memories and look at my birch trees. The last time I went, I was thirty-nine years old and about to leave Russia for good. I desperately wandered around my grandparents’ old neighborhood, trying to find the patch of earth that remembered me as a young girl, but I never found it. The house was demolished by then, and clusters of gray concrete-block clones had mushroomed in its place, leaving me forever uprooted.
Before my family left Moscow, we had to turn in our Soviet passports (and pay for that, too!). We had to clean, repaint, and repair everything in our small apartment. And we had to pack our lives into six suitcases – two for every member of the family. What did we take from our Moscow’s home? Some clothes, a photo album, a couple of books, three small pillows and blankets, cutlery, and $180 – all that we were allowed to take.
Our first stop outside the USSR was Vienna, Austria. It was a temporary place, never meant to be our home. This was just fine, though — we hoped to build a future in America anyway. It took us several years to achieve our American dream, but when we finally did, the home we moved into quickly became a broken one — our marriage deteriorated and my husband left. My teenage daughter soon moved out, too. So there I was, alone in a house that consumed most of my income, leaving me with $25 per week for food and “entertainment.” I should have sold it, of course. It wasn’t a home anyway – just a place to sleep and cry. Yet I did not. Instead, I got a loan and went back to school. For the next four years I had no time to feel sorry for myself – a full-time job and part-time school left no time for that.
And then a miracle happened — I met a man. I didn’t think I’d fall in love again. Surely not in this strange country and not with someone who grew up on the other side of the world. After all, what did we have in common? We grew up speaking different languages, reading different books and listening to different songs. And yet, the moment he took me in his arms and carried me over the threshold of his house, I felt at home. It wasn’t the building itself that made me feel so, but his strong arms and his warm embrace.
Don’t take me wrong. There is nothing special in my story. Thousands and millions of refugees around the world flee from wars, oppressive regimes, and economic difficulties in search of a place they can call home. Numerous military and diplomatic families and Piece Corps volunteers move from one place to another in the call of duty. How do they do it? Do they put their lives on hold or do they build temporary homes wherever they find themselves? And what is a home? A building or a street outside our window? Children sleeping in our arms or a pet curled up on our lap? It must be different for everybody. As for me, my home is where you are, my darling. Happy Valentine’s!
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